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W.M. SOMERVILLE, "LIBYA" , WOOLLAHRA: LETTER from WEST NORW00D, U.K.

This paper is about a heritage building in Sydney, ‘Libya’, and I have to admit at the outset that my research has been unfruitful in finding the reason for the name. I did learn something about William and Alice Somerville, the Aborigines that occupied the land before the white men came, the parcel of land that was divided up in Woollahra, (Aboriginal word for ‘a lookout’), as well as the names of some pioneers of this area, and the names of early residents who occupied this Heritage home’.

The tattered cover front had a total of 2½d postage made up of a vertical pair of the Great Britain QV lilac 1d ‘POSTAGE AND INLAND REVENUE’ stamp as well as a single orange-vermillion ½d ‘POSTAGE AND REVENUE’ stamp, canceled by WEST-NORWOOD/ Z/ NO 15/ (18)96, with the barred numeral ‘72'. It was addressed to Mrs W.M. So(merville), ‘Libya’, Queen Street, Woollah(ra), Sydney, New South Wales, Austra(lia). It had a black 5D tax handstamp which was paid by a block of 5 lower marginal green one penny postage due stamps of N. S. W.. canceled by 3 examples of the ‘MORE TO PAY’ handstamp. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

A significant swathe of land that extended south of Port Jackson from South Head in the east, to the western suburb of Petersham of present-day Sydney encompassed Woollahra, which was traditionally the land of the Cadigal people who belonged to the coastal Dharug language group. Following European occupation, the suburb of Woollahra became part of a substantial Point Piper Estate, comprising 1130 acres of land amassed from 1816 by a military officer and public servant, John Piper (1773 -1851). He became insolvent and his land was taken over by merchants in 1826, Daniel Cooper and Solomon Levey. Their title to the land was confirmed in 1830, and it became the sole property in 1847 of Daniel Cooper (1785-1853) an ex-convict. The Cooper-Levey property had been surveyed in 1844 and the land was divided into allotments; after the death of Cooper in 1853, and sales of the Point Piper Estates ceased, although leasing of land was still permissible. Thomas Bowden was one individual who acquired a 99-year lease of 5 acres of the estate land and an 1889 Map of the Municipality of Woollahra refers to Bowden’s land in Queen Street as the ‘Riviere Estate’.

Queen Street was originally known as Piper Street, and residential and commercial development of the future Queen Street began gradually in the 1850s, and the new name was adopted in ca. 1880. The house at 155 Queen Street was first recorded in 1883 when a Mrs. F.G. Moore sub-let the house to Robert Jackson, the occupant, who was ‘a wine and spirits merchant’, as listed in the Sands Directory in 1884. Just as the origin of the name for the house as ‘Libya’ is not known, the records do not show who built the house (perhaps Mrs. Moore, the lessee of the property). Robert Jackson was still the occupant of ‘Libya’ and Mrs. Moore, the lessee in 1886. In 1896 the lessee was again Katherine Moore, but the new occupant was Mr. William M. Somerville, a ‘bank inspector’. In 1902, William Somerville had obtained the leasehold to the property, and he was still living there.

The freehold to the property was transferred to Mrs. Alice Marianne Somerville in about 1920. William Michael Somerville had married Alice Marianne Gordon at Vegetable Creek, N.S.W. (which was later known as Emmaville, a tin mining district north of Glen Innes, N.S.W.) in 1882. Both the house and its white picket fence are listed as a Heritage building. A picture of the two-storey house, with lettering of ‘Libya’ on the parapet, at 155 Queen Street, Woollahra, is seen in Figure 2.

Thus the origins of Queen Street, Woollahra and the house unusually named ‘Libya’, can be traced back in history to the First Fleet’s arrival at Sydney in 1788. These findings could have been accomplished only because Libby Watters, Local History Librarian, Woollahra Library and Information Service, Sydney responded to my email for help, once again. The first time was for the paper about Baroness de Koenneritz of St. Cloud, Rose Bay, Sydney, which is listed in the category ‘Postcards’, at this website.

 
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